British Actress Puts Spin On Ibsen's 'Doll Wife'

LONDON -- Actresses don't get much feistier than Janet McTeer, which is why the English performer readily admits she was astounded at being cast in "A Doll's House."


"Anyone who knows me goes hysterical at the idea of me playing that girl at the beginning," McTeer said over brunch at a cafe near her northwest London home.


She was referring to the celebrated "doll-wife" of Ibsen's 1879 play, who starts the drama subservient, and ends it in search of a kind of emancipation that has emboldened women ever since.


McTeer's interpretation nonetheless was one of the talking points of the recent London theater season. In February, it won the 35-year-old actress an Olivier -- London's Tony -- over formidable competition from Dame Diana Rigg, Eileen Atkins, and Vanessa Redgrave.


It is now on Broadway for an 18-week run at the Belasco Theater. In addition to McTeer, Anthony Page's acclaimed staging has arrived in New York with three men from the London supporting cast -- Peter Gowen, John Carlisle, and, as her bank manager husband Torvald, Olivier nominee Owen Teale.


While some performers play down their strengths, McTeer speaks with refreshing directness of her triumph in the part.


"I have no idea how I managed to have so much confidence about Nora, but I did," she said, her short hair and black-clad casual chic suggesting an unusually tall catwalk model, not a leading classicist of her generation. McTeer stands almost 185 centimeters.


"As far as I'm concerned, 'A Doll's House' was a brand-new play that had never been done before," McTeer said. "If you start off the play knowing something, it's a shame. It's much more interesting to discover absolutely everything from beginning to end."


The key to her performance was a restless physicality that showed her attraction to Torvald, and occasionally her fear.


"Nora was married because she was young and pretty -- the perfect daughter brought up to be the perfect wife," said McTeer. "She's bought into the deal and when it works, she loves it."


And when it doesn't? "There is no emotional maturity there at all, no ability to actually cope or discuss things. So then, of course, it all falls apart until eventually she realizes, what am I doing here? I've made a terrible mistake."


The actress' intensity and risk-taking have led to comparisons to Vanessa Redgrave, her competitor for the Olivier.